Complaining: A Path To Authenticity and Less Pain

“What annoyances are more painful than those of which we cannot complain?”
Marquis de Custine

“Things are seldom what they seem, skim milk masquerades as cream.”
From H.M.S. Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan

Have you ever noticed yourself vacillating between feeling grateful and complaining? Take heart, they don’t cancel each other out, nor do they have to compete. As strange as it may seem, both are necessary for you to maintain a balanced view of life. Repressing negative thoughts and feelings is not healthy or desirable. Allowing the full spectrum of emotions is your ticket to a more authentic, content life. If we weren’t supposed to experience rage, frustration, anger, irritation, jealousy, envy, or any other “negative” emotion they would all have been extinct by now. The fact that everyone has the full complement of feelings is evidence they are necessary. Having them and acknowledging they exist is not the same thing as expressing them inappropriately. It is far better to write in your journal than to escalate your anger into road rage, or homicidal behavior. Unfortunately, many people, especially women, are trained to think they have to be “sugar and spice and everything nice” as the old nursery rhyme used to say. Not only can this be stultifying emotionally, it can morph into all sorts of physical issues, some of which can be painful to the point of immobilization.

Dr. John Sarno, who wrote a number of books, beginning with “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection,” has always maintained emotions you find unacceptable get expressed physically in the form of TMS, tension myositis syndrome. The purpose of this muscle tension, and the pain it produces, is to distract you from negative thoughts and feelings you deem inappropriate to your self-concept as a good, kind, loving, generous, person. The cure is to allow 15-30 minutes a day to journal your nastiest, angriest, and most loathsome thoughts. On the face of it, you may think this goes against everything written on this site about envisioning the best and allowing it to come to you. It doesn’t. To paraphrase Carl Jung, we all have a shadow side and denying it only creates misery. By taking time every day to let your darkest thoughts and feelings rise to conscious awareness, you keep them from festering and expressing themselves in other, more insidious ways.

According to Dr. Sarno, it is typically the nicest people who suffer from TMS the most. They are do-gooders, perfectionists, self-critical, overly responsible, and prone to guilt. Naturally, allowing and acknowledging a slew of negative thoughts and feelings is anathema to people whose very existence has depended on being perceived as loving, giving, and kind-hearted. But, if not allowing yourself to peer into your dark side produces chronic pain, or other challenging physical symptoms that intrude on your life, you may want to experiment with a little emotional spelunking.

Do you want to be the person who is so invested in being seen as 100% lovely, kind, generous, patient, self-sacrificing, etc. that you are willing to live with inner emotional turmoil and physical symptoms? That may sound like a rhetorical question, but it isn’t. Many people choose that route because it can be incredibly ego-gratifying. If you find yourself suffering from chronic pain, migraines, IBS, insomnia, or other intrusive physical issues, you may want to give Dr. Sarno’s prescription a try. Let your inner two year old out, even if he or she is having a tantrum. You don’t need to express this part of yourself in public, but by acknowledging it exists you can blow off some steam before it implodes through a physical symptom.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.